This article is dedicated to Makerere University and other heads of tertiary institutions which need money but must think outside the box.
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8M Information Forum members’ fervent topic of discussion is: Should Makerere University do business to nourish its impoverished academicians or it should solely concentrate on academics and leave its academicians to starve if Government fails to pay up? Here follows selected views, though some are abridged.
A fervent proponent of the idea: If you trace Makerere on the subject, you will observe that
1. Academics are separated from the procurement and proposed property developments. Makerere is not financing businesses. It has land that can generate income to run the university as stated by the vice chancellor.
2. An investment arm called Makerere University Holdings Ltd was incorporated in 2014.
3. Among the mooted properties to be developed is Makerere University Guest House into a three-star hotel.
4. The objective of these investment is to meet the huge costs of running the university in general. There is need to generate funds for sustainability.
A fervent opposer of the idea: I have my reservations about Makerere University doing business. Doing business needs a lot of discipline if the university is to uphold quality. Consider the time this “business trend” started. There have been ‘mushrooming’ programmes almost in all courses, some duplicated and narrow-focused, as long as they bring in income. Business has to be done with caution. To avoid conflict of interest, Makerere must insulate its academicians from business.
Eng Dr Frank Sebowa (supporter): You still need an insider to take care of Makerere’s interest. Like all new things, Vice Chancellor Prof Nawangwe’s brilliant proposal to enhance doing business will have doubters until the results trickle in. There are too many demands on the national budget. When we surrender to the specialist entities, we end up with shameful empty spaces like what used to be the Doctors Village opposite Mulago Hospital. Vice Chancellor Nawangwe has picked the low hanging fruits off the ‘Makerere tree’. I support an investment arm of the university to ensure the so-called specialist entities don’t destroy the Doctors Village near Mulago Hospital by only replacing it with a fenced bush.
Godfrey Roma: Is the academic side doing well before we introduce the investment arm to add more [difficulties] to this institution? Let the academicians carry out research that will attract funding. Just a suggestion, Prof James Tumwine. On the surface, the logic is that the business arm can mobilize resources to support the core objective of the university, which is, teaching, research, learning, and community service. It is a very good idea in my view. It will hopefully complement the Government’s input. Support for innovative research is currently minimal. Whether the venture of a business arm of the university will succeed remains to be seen. I would give it tacit support.
Joseph (opposer): I think it’s illogical for Makerere to do services in areas they lack competence.
Eng. Justus Akankwasa (supporter): Would it not be interesting if the university did not follow usual trends and instead developed a different approach altogether? I met someone who had lectured at the University of Loughborough in the United Kingdom. Some of those buildings were built by students! Makerere has a chance to innovate! I can imagine students and lecturers acquiring essential skills in design, construction and supervision.
Eng Hans JWB Mwesigwa (supporter): I react to the concept that Makerere University should stay put on chalk-on-the-blackboard and the mouse-on-computer. Far from it! Academics and business can’t be separated! Both lecturers and students can teach and learn from practical examples. Look, the famous Makerere College School (my former school at A-level) was established, mainly to offer the Makerere University lecturers and students a spot for practicals! [That’s why it was Makerere College School] After all, businesses will have own managers to ensure effectiveness and profitability. By developing the business angle, Makerere is simply avoiding the path of that biblical guy, who hid his master’s talent and neglected to maximise its potential. Look at it in another way: Do you want a perpetual ‘Gavumenti etuyambe’?
We have examples in Uganda: both the Anglican Church and the Roman Catholic Church have each a multi-storeyed Church House in the heart of Kampala. For example, Mapeera House housing Centenary Bank is just opposite Constitutional Square, making millions of bucks for the Catholic Church in a year.
A contributor (oppose): Commercializing Makerere University would be a disservice to the citizenry.
Dr John Bahana (supporter): Let me tell you which side I am: Makerere University must be money-generating in very many ways. Way back (how can I forget) when the Faculty of Agriculture moved from the Rockerfeller Foundation fund to NORAD, Prof Orland and colleagues at Kabanyolo were earning the faculty a whole US$2million per month out of cut flowers. This was from a mere two glass houses. I was a student of agriculture. We also developed terrain-tested mini-tractors MAK 3, 5 & 6. If the trend had survived Amin and the political turbulence that followed him, Makerere would never have had to carry a begging bowl. Let the university innovate and make money without compromising academic standards.
A contributor (supporter): Just to chip in, I am also convinced that Makaerere and any enterprise of whatever nature must think of generating funds. Look where the colonialists derailed us: Northcote and old halls were for free to older students! And so was food and books, etc! When I studied abroad, what do I see? The same bazungu give students (their children) money, whether you call it scholarship or pocket money or what, and they would learn to pay for their requirements such as accommodation, food, air, etc. The lesson? For their children, “nothing is for free”. For our children: “Look for free things”! Anyone with a basic certificate of education or the degrees the Makerere dons have can use their brain to stay the course of academics while also doing commerce. It’s all about how to plan and do it. Let Makerere and others think out of the box.
Eng Dr Moses Musaazi (supporter): Dear all, let me add to the many voices about Makerere University going into business.
1. Makerere will probably never pay a living wage to lecturers. I realized this in 1979 and went into business in 1988. I have been in business but been able to fulfil my academic obligation reasonably well.
2. Makerere has lots of assets including brains and land. My advice is, Makerere should look for ventures that involve lecturers at known fees. Please note that a university is able to attract huge sums of money in research and development as opposed to individual lecturers. Universities abroad have this extra funding to support several university projects. There are professorial chairs fully paid by industries. Students hugely benefit from practising lecturers as compared to those without outside experience. I can go on and on to support this. Right now I know of a very brilliant 32-year-old PhD holder in Makerere who is reluctantly looking for greener pastures. What a loss we shall have!
A contributor (supporter): Moses, you are spot on. I know this from Germany and the Czech Republic that universities make money by its academicians working with businesses. The who, what, where, when, why, and how is the issue.
A free-lance contributor: One of our biggest problems is failure to think outside the box. There is no white person who taught us how to brew omwenge (local beer), or how to make olubugo (bark cloth). But 150 years on, we look forward to copying or stealing from white people. I write with a heavy heart that the school education system left by the colonialists and perpetuated by Ugandans without thinking is the greatest killer of innovation. Did you observe your own children before going to school? Do you remember how innovative they were? But alas! This suddenly changed when they went to school and soon burdened by lots of homework. Do you remember how you fell a victim and started speaking in English to them because teachers were doing so? I wish we had a way of drastically changing the schools’ syllabi and the methods of teaching. It may be too late for your children, certainly for mine, but the grandchildren may be saved.